Friday, April 15, 2011

Careful planning creates a more carefree vacation

Planning a vacation on a budget for two adults and four kids ages 6, 5, 3 and 1 is no easy feat, but it’s an endeavor my husband and I recently undertook. With or without small children, travel is often expensive and complicated.

One way to minimize expenses and keep complications at bay is to plan your vacation with a clear purpose in mind. What are your main priorities? How do you want your getaway to feel? Adventurous? Relaxing? How much are you willing to spend to achieve those priorities? Your answers will help to ensure that you make the most of your vacation.

In the case of our family, our upcoming trip is to celebrate my in-laws and their 40 years of marriage. Accordingly, we determined that our vacation priority was to spend time in a relaxing atmosphere, doing activities that we could enjoy together as family.

Determining our purpose was the easy part. It was a little trickier planning a vacation that would suit our budget and our small children. We knew our destination had to be family-friendly, and that we wanted to avoid harried airport transfers and rental car desks. Those guidelines narrowed our search tremendously.

We also needed to consider how luggage fees would influence the overall price of our trip. After all, we’re still toting things like diapers, sippy cups and ear thermometers, so we knew we wouldn’t be able to skate by with carry-ons, even for a short getaway. With the cost of one checked bag coming in near $40, we decided that we’ll be packing lighter than usual.

Once we had a destination in mind, we started looking for a hotel that could accommodate us. After searching multiple sites and comparing room rates, we found a two-bedroom suite—with a full kitchen—for $160 a night. (The suite sleeps eight, so we’ll be splitting the cost with my husband’s parents.) The hotel is outside the most popular part of our destination city, but it still has plenty of amenities. And with a full kitchen, we’ll be able to save money by preparing some meals in our suite.

While we were trying to decide if this suite was the right choice, the price increased from $160 to $195 a night. The increase wasn’t a deal breaker, but it was disappointing, nevertheless. We did learn a valuable travel lesson, though. If you find a deal that fits your budget, it’s best to book it, rather than hope that the price might go down.

Now that we have booked our hotel suite and paid for our tickets, we have turned our focus to planning our trip activities. We’re planning a loose itinerary that sketches out some specific places that we’d like to visit and restaurants where we’d like to dine. We won’t be scheduling every waking moment, but we’ll use our itinerary to help us anticipate expenses and to ensure that we’re making the most of our getaway. Of course, we’ll include plenty of downtime in our plan, too.

In the end, we plan to spend a total of $1,500 for a resort-style vacation for our family of six. While our vacation is an investment, we feel it’s one worth saving for. We’ll build precious memories as a family and enjoy a respite from our everyday routine.

As the summer months approach, I encourage you to consider your vacation priorities. Thinking about your vacation and carefully considering what activities you hope to do will help keep your budget intact. It’s much easier to return home feeling relaxed when you know your vacation is already paid for.

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